Last year around this same time I shared with you my thoughts on residents and  families who complain. 

I stand by what I wrote last year, and in 2020 I’ve come to appreciate in a new way the impact complaints have on all of us in long-term care. 

The fatigue of the pandemic is doing tricky things to all of us. Once seemingly rational concerns can quickly become amplified in a way none of us expected. The holidays are certainly a time when emotions run high. 2020 adds so much more to that emotional energy because the unknowns are overwhelming.

Families are frustrated, confused and scared. None of us know the right answer or what someone really needs to do to stay happy and healthy. The quick answer is stay home and limit or stop social interaction. What cost will that have?

Residents and families who complain to us are looking for someone to blame. It’s much easier to point the finger and blame, than to look inward sometimes. The leadership lesson in this? Let them blame us. Better we take the brunt of the frustration. There is no sense in arguing with 2020’s amplified frustration. The only thing it would do is add to our personal frustration. 

Instead listen, and listen intently. Try to identify what isn’t being said. I would guess that even those folks out there that will tell you the pandemic isn’t impacting them “much” are still struggling on some level. 

Recently, I was reminded by a team member how important sharing is, even when there isn’t a complaint to be immediately addressed. A quick email or phone call can do wonders, especially when families can’t see with their own eyes how their loved ones are; a “Your mom had a good day” email can go a long way. 

This isn’t life-changing advice. Frankly, like many of you, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to focus on looking ahead. The here and now is proving to be a huge challenge. Reactions to those who complain both inside and outside of our field … simply put, we are all losing patience. The best advice: Continue to rise above. 

Offer the benefit of the doubt, even when you may be boiling on the inside. If anything, give this blog a once over before you make that call you’ve been putting off, and remember that everyone is dealing with the frustration of the pandemic the best way they can, and your conversation could be just the talk they didn’t even know they needed. 

The ability to absorb the frustration of so many people is what makes us in long-term care special leaders. We are able to take it all in, turn it around and remain positive. There is no other option. Our residents, families and team members need that from us. 

Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. Thorson is currently a coach for the Leading Age’s Larry Minnix Leadership Academy.  Her “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program last summer.